Voters in Randolph County, Georgia could face a tough time voting in the upcoming midterm election if county officials follow through with a proposal to close seven of the county’s nine polling places.
According to The Washington Post, voting rights activists — including the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a formal protest — have descended on recent hearings and have launched a petition drive in an effort to block the proposal, framing the move as an attempt to disenfranchise the county’s minority community.
Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, which oversees elections operations throughout the state, has issued a statement urging Randolph County officials to “abandon this effort.” Kemp also is the Republican nominee in one of the country’s most-watched gubernatorial contests. The Democratic nominee, Stacey Abrams, a former state legislator, is seeking to become the nation’s first black female governor.
The two-member county election board – a third member stepped down recently – has scheduled a vote for Friday on the proposal to shutter seven of the county’s nine polling places, citing problems including facilities in disrepair or inaccessible to people with disabilities. But some activists are suspicious of the board’s motives, noting that Randolph County is more than 55 percent black and many residents have low incomes. The county, which covers 431 square miles, has no public transportation system.
The Post reports that all nine of the county’s polling places were open during the May primaries, and they were open for last month’s statewide runoffs.
County officials and a consultant they hired said the closures were necessary because the sites were not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act and there was not time to fix them before the Nov. 6 general election. They also suggested that affected residents could vote by absentee ballot.
But voting rights activists failed to see the logic in closing facilities due to accessibility issues:
“You don’t solve problems of accessibility for people with disabilities by reducing access for people without disabilities,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the Georgia ACLU, which wrote a letter to the board stating that the closures would be a violation of the Voting Rights Act because it would have a negative effect on African American voters. The group noted that African Americans make up more than 96 percent of the voters at one of the polling places slated for closure.
As a backup plan, in case the board is unmoved by arguments to keep the polling places open, some people are hoping to employ a state law that disallows the closing of polling places if at least 20 percent of affected voters object to the plan.
Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project, a voter registration and education group, said activists will begin collecting signatures Sunday, spreading the word at morning church services.
“We want to see to it that the hundreds of students we registered at Andrew College and the people we’ve registered in Randolph are able to exercise their sacred, fundamental right to vote,” Ufot said. The goal is to submit the petition before the board’s scheduled Friday vote.